Here’s the first chapter of my grade school anthology book – Middletown Middle. The school with more mysteries than students.
Chapter One – The Nickname Curse
“Coloring? Seriously?” the new fourth-grader complains as he takes out his crayons. “We stopped coloring in second grade at my old school.”
“Welcome to Middletown Middle,” Jeremy’s tablemate, Ari, responds. “Don’t try to compare other schools with this place.”
“It’s super weird here,” adds Marty, the third kid at their table. “The more strange stuff you look for, the more you find.”
“Understood. So, what’s the deal with this assignment? Draw the next Middletown Middle mascot,” Jeremy questioned, “What’s wrong with the lusca? I’ve never heard of a school changing nickname. I can only draw tigers, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Marty starts to explain, but Ari holds up her hand.
“I’ve got this Marty,” Ari tells him. “The school changes nickname every twenty years to avoid the curse. What curse, you ask? The curse is simple. If this school keeps its nickname for more than twenty years, then the nickname starts hurting people. My mom was here forty years ago, and she had to do it. She even picked the winning name. You can’t pick a tiger because they kill people.”
Jeremy says. “Kansas has no tigers.”
“Oh, but we do. They are at the zoo, and when the circus comes by,” she retorts.
“People have ’em in their backyards,” Marty adds. “That’s what my mom said.”
“Tigers can kill people, and they’ll find a way to come to this school,” Ari says. “You can’t pick something real that can kill.”
“Why can’t we keep the lusca?” Jeremy asks. “It’s a mythical water beast. I’d like to see it try to attack the school 1,000 miles away from the nearest ocean. “
“Don’t talk like that,” Marty whispers. “It’ll happen if you talk about it. We change names because that’s what we do to keep people breathing.”
“Where are you from anyway? I thought everyone knew about the curse,” Ari asks.
“I’m from Nebraska,” Jeremy answers. “And in Nebraska, they don’t teach the history of this stupid school.”
“Shhhhh. This school listens,” Marty says. He resumes the conversation with less volume. “Back in the forties, Middletown Middle’s mascot was killer bees. Twenty years later, a swarm of killer bees attacked the school, a teacher died, and lots of others were taken to the hospital.”
“So, they changed their mascot,” Ari adds. “To the wildcats, since it’s a classic nickname and something we don’t worry about here, right?”
“Right,” Jeremy answers.
“Wrong,” counters Marty. “Twenty years after they changed the name to the wildcats, this guy from the zoo came to show off some animals, including a cougar. It got loose and bit off the janitor’s leg during assembly.”
“I don’t believe you, but I’ll ask anyway,” Jeremy says. “What was the next mascot?”
Ari continues to draw and color at her desk and, without even looking up, she replies. “The tornados.”
“Well, that was stupid,” Jeremy says.
“Hey, my mom picked that!” Ari countered. “But, yeah, they were stupid for picking it.”
“I mean, lots of tornados come through this area,” Marty says. “But the twister in 2000 took out all our t-shacks, school buses, and dropped a sliding board in the principal’s living room.”
“So, that’s how they came up with the lusca?”
“Yeah. The school said anything real or that can kill would be rejected. So, they picked a mythical ocean creature, half-shark, half-giant octopus. Even if it was real, this is Kansas.”
“So, what are you drawing?” Jeremy asks Ari.
“Rocks,” Ari holds up her work. “Get it? Middletown Middle rocks.”
Jeremy shakes his head, and Marty rolls his eyes and says. “It’ll probably win.”
Their teacher walks over to see how they’re doing, and the three fourth-graders quietly continue their drawings.
The following week, in a gym packed with students for the whole school assembly, Principal Sosa is set to unveil the new name at center court. The band plays the theme from Jaws. The giant sign with the hand-painted lusca that has hung above the basketball court for nearly two decades is set to be replaced. On the opposite side of the court, another sign covered with a blanket is ready to be unveiled.
An eighth-grader wearing a costume with a shark head and octopus body runs around. The lusca’s long tentacles drag behind it. He claps his hands over his head, and the students follow suit.
“Is it going to be the rocks or the mountaineers?” Ari asks, sitting between Jeremy and Marty.
“We got no mountains here. That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Jeremy says. “So, rocks, you got my vote.”
“I hope so,” Ari follows, showing off crossed fingers, “I’ll get a $50 gift certificate to the Middletown Mall.”
“Spend it fast before it closes,” Marty says. “I’m rooting for rocks too.”
The principal walks to the mic.
“Are you all ready?” he yells out, and everyone cheers (mostly because they are not in their classrooms). He points to the lusca sign, and the mascot running around behind him. “Today’s the last day we are the Middletown Middle luscas. Can we all say farewell to our dear friend?”
The lusca mascot balls its fists near its eyes and makes the fake crying motion. The students wave goodbye, and the lusca drags it tentacles off the court to stand under the lusca sign.
The principal directs everyone’s attention to the opposite end of the court, to the covered sign at the far end of the gymnasium. He takes the rope that holds the tarp in place.
“Drumroll, please,” the principal asks.
A kid in the band plays a not very good drum roll.
“And, the new nickname for Middletown Middle is rock! Middletown Middle rocks!” He shouts as he pulls the blanket off the sign revealing a not-at-all intimidating painting of a rock. Before anyone can react, a colossal explosion interrupts the celebration. Something flies into the building, blowing up part of the ceiling before slamming right into the lusca sign. Sparks fly as the wooden sign is splintered and falls to the ground.
Everyone screams and points to the shark-octopus mascot. The costume’s long tentacles are on fire and the flames are near the octopus’s body. The gymnasium breaks out into pandemonium.
The eighth-grader wearing the mascot costume takes off his mask and runs in circles to put out the fire with movement, but only makes it worse. The janitor, Ben, the one with the artificial leg, douses the flaming lusca with a fire extinguisher. The mascot is covered in what looks like whipped cream. He slips and lays on the ground with the smoldering tentacles wrapped around him. The fire is out. He’s safe.
As the smoke settles, the students can see a hole in the ceiling big enough to drive a truck through, and the lusca sign laying on the floor is burned and broken. They watch Principal Sosa walk over to what was left. In the middle of the remains lies the cause of the explosion that nearly destroyed their school – a meteor the size of a baseball. He holds up the space rock for everyone to see.
“Middletown Middle,” Ari says quietly. “Rocks.”
That is why Middletown Middle no longer has a nickname. In case you are wondering, Ari did get a $50 gift certificate for picking the name, but there were no stores left to spend it in.
Continue on to Chapter Two – The Unktomi